I want to touch on a topic that is very near to me and not for reasons that I would consider good or healthy. It has settled on my heart like a winter freeze that has persisted in melting down only in time to freeze again. It is probably one of the worst and best things that made itself a part of my life somehow, but I will almost always consider it a curse before a blessing. Those that know me well know at least part of my story and know this is something I will probably deal with until the day I die. I am not afraid of approaching this topic anymore, as perhaps I might have been in the past. But I have felt convicted of this lately and so, for those who don’t know about this part of my life…
I would like to tell you about depression.
Before I really broach the subject, however, I would like to tell you a little bit about my experience. This is not meant to be some sort of outcry for pity and rescue. That’s a very quick and fast way to piss me off. I am not a charity, I am damaged but not beyond repair and you can’t fix me. Please understand that now and we will, hopefully, avoid any sort of particular grief. I am still human underneath the layers of defenses, coping mechanisms and maladaptive behavior I’ve developed over the years because of it. I’m dealing with it. I am, however, legitimately thankful to all who show concern.
It’s typical for this type of issue to manifest itself in adolescence as I’ve learned through my research and I was certainly no exception. Depression oft requires a trigger of some sort and, for me, it was the absence of my biological father as I entered my teen years. The rhythm we had created was a visit once or twice a year on holidays and we’d go see his side of the family.
Then he stopped showing up.
A couple of years went by and, when the winter came, I sank. I didn’t know what was going on. I was an introverted and introspective kid and at that age certain things are still new. Depression was new to me but my mom recognized that something was a bit off. I was short-tempered and vocal about my anger, I would lock myself up with the computer for hours on end, I wasn’t sleeping which just amplified every emotional state and made the dark growing inside me even that much more detrimental. I went through counseling and healed of my “daddy issues”. They put me on an anti-depressant and, when things got a little brighter, I felt better and stopped taking them.
Fast forward a few years and that dark, cold feeling grew again and, with it, came an even stronger anxiety. I went through almost every anti-depressant one could possibly think of: SSRI’s, SNRI’s, MAOI’s and nothing seemed to cut it. After summarily firing the GP that was prescribing all of these drugs with no result, I found a new one who referred me to their Behavioral Health Unit. The same cycle began again. Try a drug, fail a drug, appointment, ad infinitum. In the process they were able to nail down that I was, indeed, textbook DSM-IV Bipolar II, categorized with rapidly cycling moods, uncontrolled anxiety and depression. It made sense of a lot of things and it was almost cathartic to hear those words, despite their unpleasant implications. Eventually, they found a cocktail of meds that keep me stable most of the time.
But still, the darkness would come.
I’ve learned a lot about depression in the last few years since my diagnosis. It is, in fact a disease, and a dangerous one at that. I’ve heard it described as anger turned inward which I can neither confirm nor deny from my own experience. Sometimes that description makes a lot of sense. Depression is often cold and numbing. For me it has taken me all the way down to the floor and taken any and all strength from me to get back up. It roots you very firmly in the moment and rips all perspective away from you, forces you to forget there is a future and, very selectively, lets you trek into the past into moments in life that hurt the most and then it allows you to feel that way all over again. Depression can be maddening, and can drive you to actions that you never thought you’d ever even consider. It has led some to consider taking their own life and some have tried and succeeded. Above anything else it is important to remember this:
It can be deadly.
Depression is not a joke. It has been caricatured over the years by mass media. For instance, the token “Goth Kids” on the show South Park. I remember those kids in high school and the ones that weren’t doing it just for the attention had some serious problems in their lives. But this only points out how stigmatized not just depression but any mental illness by pretty much any mass media outlet at some point or another. I cannot relate to you how many times I have been in a conversation where someone tells the typical story of someone flying off the handle or having any other sort of emotional extreme and then hear the story teller then say, “He/she is so bipolar”. Let me be clear. I have a sense of humor, I really do. I will laugh at some of the most crude and obscene jokes you can think of without thinking about it. More than anything I want you to understand that because of this take on mental illness, I, and people like me, are afraid to be open about their struggles.
Depression is a silent killer.
I don’t want you to come away from this thinking I sat down and wrote this in one of my depressive states and I wanted to take out all my angst on the blogosphere or whoever else might read this. While I am actually in the middle of an extended depressive episode right now, I really just felt this deep conviction that I needed to put my heart out there somehow. This just happens to be the best way I know how to communicate this. Let me tell you what I believe.
I believe in a God who doesn’t make mistakes. I also believe he created man who first sinned and has sent all of creation spiraling out of control and away from its creator ever since. I believe I was made this way for a reason and that I may never understand why I was made to suffer this way. I believe in drawing closer to a state of completeness or sha’lom through God coming in the form of a man who suffered everything I have in far worse a fashion and then died to reconcile me to himself. I believe some day I will be rid of all of this pain and this ridiculously flawed body. I believe in all of that there is hope.
I know there are people out there who struggle from similar and probably even worse depression and darkness than I ever have and probably ever will. But to everyone I would say that it is vital, absolutely vital, to create a culture (wherever you are) where it is OK to not be OK. The absolutely worst thing you can ever do is allow someone sit in their suffering and not talk about it. That’s not just true of our current topic but I’m sure you already knew that. For those who are suffering, my prayers are for you as they are for me, that we would be healed of all of this. I stated above that depression was both a good and bad thing in my life. I’ve so far explained the bad. These are things you already know or should know. If I could tell you one positive thing I have gained from all of this it’s these:
It has drawn me nearer to YHWH.
He has taught me great and valuable lessons on suffering.
He has allowed me to take my story to others like me.
There is joy in all of that.
As odd as that may seem to you (as it was for me for many years), out of all the darkness I’ve experienced, all the times I’ve felt so depressed that I was not able to pick myself up off the ground, for all the times I cried for no reason and for all the people I’ve probably alienated because of how unstable I can be sometimes I have realized it is a common ground not many can share. Statistically, people with Bipolar II consist of about 2% of the US population, though more generous studies say up to 5%. But I have been given Christ and an often debilitating affliction. I wonder how many people in that small percentage merely feel like an aberration, a cruel joke or a product of faulty genes. I wonder how many of them understand their reward in the Kingdom of Heaven.
When you are lost in the abyss there is always a set of nail pierced hands reaching in to pull you out.